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Clark Atlanta’s New Day-to-Day Leader Hopes To Smooth Tensions

Embattled Clark Atlanta University President Walter Broadnax, who has taken heavy criticism from faculty, students and alumni over his leadership of the school, has a new right-hand man to take over day-to-day operations. Dr. Carlton Brown, former president of Savannah State University, wants to improve the relationship between the administration and faculty and students in his newly created position that frees up Broadnax to do fund-raising.

Dr. Carlton Brown has hit the ground running in his new job at Clark Atlanta University.

Just one week as the school’s executive vice president, handling the day-to-day reins of the 4,500-student historically Black university, he’s already met with faculty representatives and student leadership.

“We’ve obviously got a great deal of work to do,” Brown says. “But I’m looking forward to getting it done.”

Brown, the former president at Savannah State University, has assumed his newly created position in the wake of heavy criticism around campus from some faculty, students and alumni of the way CAU President Dr. Walter Broadnax has been running the school.

When he came to CAU in 2002, Broadnax sought to eliminate what had been a $7.5 million deficit — a figure he says was more like $25 million when figuring in cash flow problems. During his tenure, the school has instituted cost-cutting measures that included shutting down its School of Library & Information Science in 2004 and the closing of the Department of Engineering after 2008.

A group of engineering faculty and students unsuccessfully sued Broadnax and the institution, accusing Broadnax of ignoring university policies in closing the department. In June the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit.

Among other things, Broadnax has also been accused of not paying enough attention to fund-raising, communicating poorly with faculty and students, not doing enough to improve the recruitment and retention of students and doing a poor job with the school’s finances.

A group of students filled the campus with fliers demanding Broadnax’ resignation this past spring. And at a news conference last month, the school’s Faculty Assembly asked the president to step down or be fired.

The university’s board of trustees has stood behind Broadnax, who acknowledges that the allegations have stung him but defends the work he’s done to keep the university going. But trustees, along with Broadnax, created the executive vice president position so Broadnax won’t have to handle day-to-day CAU affairs and will instead focus on fund-raising. Brown says it’s only a two-year situation.

“It’s a temporary structure,” he says. “We’ll settle on what we do after that after awhile.”

Broadnax has said he will remain the final decision-maker on campus.

“We are pleased to have such a distinguished and accomplished educator joining the CAU family,” Broadnax said in a statement last week. “I have admired Dr. Brown’s work at Savannah State and look forward to the energy and leadership he will bring with him to CAU.”

“The on-campus decisions will be within my purview, but obviously I still report to the president,” Brown says.

Brown brings a wealth of experience to the position. He’s credited with bringing long-needed stability to historically Black Savannah State since taking the helm in 1997. SSU had gone through six presidents in the 18 years prior to Brown’s appointment.

Brown made crucial ties with the Savannah and Chatham County community, vastly improved student housing, increased the number of capital projects and buildings at the school and created new academic programs.

But there were problems.

Financial mismanagement issues crept up during Brown’s tenure, including a 2006 state audit that criticized the university for financial and accounting problems. Last year, the NCAA slapped the school with probation that runs until 2013 after finding a lack of institutional control of the SSU athletic department. Among other issues, an assistant football coach was alleged to have encouraged steroid use, and team officials didn’t tell athletic department officials about the situation.

Brown defends his work at Savannah State and says one has to look at the entire history of the situation before making judgments.

“I think the record speaks for itself,” he says. Brown left Savannah State in late 2006 for a job with the Georgia Board of Regents.

Savannah City Alderman Edna Jackson says Brown was a champion for SSU and its students.

“When it comes to his students and institution, he is very caring,” says Jackson, who worked at SSU in a variety of posts over 30 years. “He loved Savannah State and fought for Savannah State. He called the students his children, and you just didn’t do anything to his children. Clark Atlanta University is getting a real jewel.”

Juanita Baranco, chair of CAU’s board, says he’s excited to have Brown on board.

“Dr. Brown is an experienced executive and visionary who has a passion for higher education at HBCUs as well as vast knowledge and understanding of the academic enterprise,” she says. “We are excited to have him as part of the team.”

CAU Faculty Assembly members who had been critical of Broadnax (81 percent of voting faculty approved a “no-confidence” vote in May) have said they were looking forward to seeing what the new executive vice president position would bring. They met with Brown last week in a meeting, which Brown says went very well.

Faculty Assembly and engineering department chair Lebone Moeti referred questions to a public relations firm the group has representing them. A promised statement on Brown from the Faculty Assembly had not been received by Tuesday afternoon.

Besides forging better relationships with faculty and students, Brown also says he wants to increase the school’s visibility in metro Atlanta.

“I think part of what I have to do is say Clark Atlanta University has a significant footprint in Atlanta, and it has that footprint,” he says. “But certainly it should grow and expand.”

Brown says transparency and communication will be important staples during his tenure. That means Carlton Brown will be very present on campus.

“They should expect me to be very visible and involved in the daily life on campus,” he says. “I want to see, hear, touch and feel.”

– Add Seymour Jr

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